by Bill Batson
I spent a few years wondering how I would commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Nyack Sketch Log, which first appeared on August 23, 2011. Having posted a sketch and short essay about person, place or public policy issue every week for over 500 weeks, I knew I wanted to do something big to mark the occasion.
So when I made a momentous decision in June of this year, I thought that the anniversary edition of the Nyack Sketch Log would be the perfect place to share the news.
I am a candidate to represent the 97th district of the New York State Assembly.
Please join me on Saturday, September 18 at 3pm for my first public event as a candidate in Hezekiah Easter Square at Cedar and Main Streets in Nyack. We gather at Hezekiah Easter Square to grieve, protest and celebrate. I can not think of a better place to launch my campaign for the New York State Assembly.
Read more to learn why I am running, my deeper connection to Hezekiah Easter Square, what I intend to accomplish as a public servant and how to participate in our people-powered campaign for equity and justice.
With deep thanks to this community for your support through 10 years of the Nyack Sketch Log, here is my tenth anniversary column.
Hezekiah Easter’s Help
When I was 18, Hezekiah Easter got me my first real job at the Fisher Skylight factory on Snake Hill Road in West Nyack. Hezekiah was the first Black elected official in Rockland County and a family friend. So, it is only fitting that I come to Hezekiah Easter Square on Saturday, September 18th at 3p to launch the campaign for the most important job of my life — as your representative in the New York State Assembly.
I decided to seek this public office on the day I was inducted into the Rockland Civil Rights Hall of Fame in June of this year. While writing my acceptance remarks for that honor, I looked for guidance from the life of the matriarch of my family, my grandmother Frances Lillian Avery Batson.
My grandmother’s parents arrived in Nyack in the 1880s seeking relief from the atrocities of racial violence in the south, and aspiring to the promise of economic opportunity in a free society. Fanny, as those that loved her called her, worked as a maid in Upper Nyack. She also served her family, church and community. She was outspoken in opposition to urban renewal, which displaced many low-income families in our community, particularly, people of color.
When I compare the issues she faced in Rockland in the 1950s to the issues we face in our county today, the similarities are disturbing.
Many of the injustices she experienced — discrimination as a single parent and woman of color, gentrification and over development that made housing unaffordable, leading to the displacement of disadvantaged groups, economic marginalization — are issues that persist in our communities today.
‘Grandson, You Need to Run.’
When my grandmother fought for civil rights at public meetings, she faced termination, incarceration, intimidation or worse — so far from the induction into a hall of fame that I received for my activism. At great risk and with no reward, she stood up and spoke out in blunt terms.
I have sought to honor my grandmother’s legacy and the risks she took to defend her family and community by standing up, speaking out and working to
— Organize for tenants rights and prevent over-development.
— Protect our water supply
— End over-policing in our communities and on our streets.
I am proud of these and many other actions I have undertaken with colleagues and friends over the years.
But what would Fanny say if she were here now, in the face of the hatred, inequity, and denialism in a post-truth society that is undermining the basic fabric of our democracy?
Fanny would say ‘Standing up is not enough. Grandson, you need to run.’
Equity and Justice For All
The future proposition is clear: There is no liberty or justice without an end to hatred, an end to denialism and a recognition that equity is fundamental to our democratic, civic and economic systems.
Without equity, the promise in our pledge of allegiance — for liberty and justice for all — is meaningless.
Equity doesn’t mean everyone gets exactly the same resources and opportunities. That’s equality. Equity recognizes that each person, family, group or community has different circumstances and needs. Equity means addressing those specific needs to achieve a fair outcome for all.
Equity has broad meaning for society today — and for Rockland County. Without equity in housing, economic opportunity, mental and physical health care and public safety, liberty and justice are unobtainable for many, simply because of their social standing, economic status, gender, skin color, or simply put, their identity.
So together, We Must Fight for Government for all
Shifting the focus of our state government toward improving the quality of life for all of our citizens. Tackling corruption and special interests that undermine the fundamentals of democratic representation. Enacting targeted reforms that address glaring needs for access to mental and physical health care and other critical services among underserved groups,
Together, We Must Fight for Justice for all
Centering issues of racial and economic fairness in the policy-making process. Seeking to end inequalities that damage individual lives and diminish our health and power as a community and a nation. Protecting the rights of individuals to fair treatment under the law, in the courts, and on our streets.
Together, We Must Fight for Security for all
Securing our communities so that all people can live lives free from the threats of poverty and sickness. Ensuring that we all have access to clean water and air, housing, mental and physical health care, education for our children, care for our elderly, and safety in our homes, our streets, our churches and public places.
To enact policies and laws that secure these outcomes, we must first accept collective responsibility and embrace the need for solidarity.
If we are to win the battle against a pandemic that is ending lives and derailing our local economy, if we are to free ourselves
— from the bonds of injustice,
— from the pangs of hunger,
— from the appalling failure of a broken mental health system to care for our vulnerable citizens
— from the threat of the climate crisis, and
— from the dangers brought by ignorance and failures in our educational system…
…it will be together.
That’s what this campaign is about: uniting to build a safer, healthier, more just, more equitable New York.
Helping Others: The Highest Virtue
I offer myself as a candidate because I fervently believe in the value of public service.
I believe that service to others is the highest virtue, and that we all are our best selves when we work for others. When we care for our children, our community, our parents, our planet, and each other.
Some serve their party, some serve their own self-interest. I ask for you to send me to Albany so I can serve you, us, we the people.
I can proudly say that I bring over 30 years of service experience to the task.
— As the creator of the Nyack Sketch Log, a decade-old, weekly column that documents the life of our Hudson Valley river villages
— As a housing organizer in Brooklyn and a labor organizer with 1199SEIU, a health care union that represents the workers here at Montefiore Nyack Hospital,
–As the manager of the Nyack Farmers Market,
— As co-founder of the Nyack Mask Makers, where we recruited over 600 makers and donors to produce 16,000 masks for frontline workers during the first wave of the pandemic, and
— As a founding steering committee member of the Rockland People’s Panel on Policing, which held public hearings and issued an extensive report to challenge racial injustice in policing.
I Promise to Make You Proud
I am most proud of my experiences serving people in need, preserving the history of people left out and people struggling to seek safer, better lives here in Rockland County and across this state.
I ask that you help me continue and broaden my public service by joining with me over the next fifteen months in our campaign for the New York State Assembly.
I’ll be spending a large part of that time deepening my understanding your issues and needs — on a “listening tour” — interviewing citizens of all ages, leaders, civil servants, workers, educators, students, veterans, business owners and institutional executives in the district. I’ll also be walking, biking our streets, hiking our trails, and riding every bus in the 97th district.
As we embark on this journey, I keep in mind that each generation must choose the direction our county will travel—away from, or toward, the precipice of intolerance, violence and self-interest.
My grandmother’s example set my feet on a path toward liberty, justice and equity. A path that will lead me on Saturday to Hezekiah Easter Square. A path I will continue on tomorrow, and every day that follows, as we fight for a better New York.
Thank you for believing in me. I am eager to join this fight as your representative in the New York State Legislature where I promise to make you proud.
Visit batsonforassembly.com to support my campaign.
An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Batson for Assembly“ © 2021 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.